Rhinelander’s Conor Pequet takes a shot past Medford’s Colton Gowey during the first period of a Great Northern Conference boys’ hockey game at the Simek Center in Medford Tuesday, Dec. 10. Pequet scored three goals and recorded a pair of assists in Rhinelander’s 7-3 victory over Medford. (Matt Frey/Star News)
12/12/2019 7:33:00 AM Hodag hockey uses big third period to beat Medford 7-3
Down 3-2 late in the second period on the road at Medford Tuesday night, the Rhinelander High School boys' hockey team needed a spark, and got it from Conor Pequet.
The junior recorded a hat trick, including a momentum-changing goal in the final moments of the second period, as the Hodags scored five unanswered goals to defeat Medford 7-3 in a Great Northern Conference contest at the Simek Center.
The Hodags (3-2-0, 1-1-0-0 Great Northern) had just surrendered a Colton Gowey power play goal with 11 seconds remaining in the second period to fall behind 3-2 when Pequet created a turnover near the Medford blue line and scored with 5.3 seconds left to tie the game heading to the second intermission.
"That goal by Conor Pequet was just a huge momentum swing," coach M.J. Laggis said. "Going into the end of the second period 3-3 was big for us.
"Conor just picked it off clean and it was a beautiful shot and a big momentum change. He scored three goals tonight, three really big goals. I can't say enough about that."
Senior defenseman Danny Zuiker scored what proved to be the game winner 6:05 into the third off assists from Jake Losch and Pequet. The Hodags put it away with a three-goal barrage in a matter of 41 seconds later in the period. Pequet, Harrison Shinners and Jake Losch all scored to make it 7-3 in the blink of an eye with 5:35 remaining. Pequet finished with five points overall on the night, adding a pair of assists to his three goals.
"We had a really good talk between periods, really good talk, and kept it really positive," Laggis said. "We talked about getting back to the way we played in the first period and we came out and played a great third period. We really took care of business in the third."
The Hodags raced out to a 2-0 lead in the first period as Pequet scored the opener from Zuiker 9:56 in, and then fellow junior Harlan Wojtusik ran his scoring streak to five straight games as he registered his 10th goal of the season at the 12:42 mark.
"Harlan really continues just to be a force for us up and down the ice," Laggis said.
Medford got back to within a goal with 1:15 remaining in the first on the power play as Carter Pernsteiner scored off assists from Austin Waldhardt and Conner Gowey. Colton Gowey tied it 4:36 into the second before scoring the go-ahead goal later in the period.
"The second period we kind of ran around and lost our way," Laggis said. "Seth Stafford did a nice job holding us in there when we were kind of losing our way, so to speak."
Stafford, the Hodags' senior goalie, recorded 19 saves in the victory as the Hodags outshot the Raiders 42-22.
Rhinelander dealt Medford (2-1-0, 0-1-0-0 Great Northern) its first lost of the season. The Raiders opened the season with non-conference wins over Shawano and East/Merrill.
"Medford's a much improved team. They've got a really good goalie in (AJ) Adleman there and they've got one line that's pretty solid. We weathered the storm," Laggis said. "They had a nice fan base that was loud. We weathered the storm, got momentum back and I was proud of our kids for pulling together. There was no panic in the locker room, no panic on the bench. We talked together and worked together, and that's the way we should do it."
Penalty kill remains an area of concern for the Hodags. Though Rhinelander took only three penalties on Tuesday, Medford converted two into goals. Rhinelander has allowed 10 power play goals over the last three games.
The Hodags face a tough challenge Friday night as they welcome No. 3 (D2) Amery to the RIA.
"Amery's faster than can be and they're good," Laggis said. "It's a challenge. I want to see our kids pull together and try to grow and improve in that game against a really good team."
The game will be held in conjunction with the team's annual Kindness for Kids toy drive. Fans will receive free admission when they donate a new, unwrapped toy at the gate. Toys collected will be given to less fortunate families in the Northwoods this holiday season.
"Hopefully we can get some gifts in the building, generate that and have a good hockey game," Laggis said.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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